Rome Stories: The Pope gets his piano - but not his cats

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The Independent Online

It was a struggle getting it in, I understand, but finally the Pope's piano was installed, in his front room no less, the one at whose window he appears every Wednesday to bless the throng.

It was a struggle getting it in, I understand, but finally the Pope's piano was installed, in his front room no less, the one at whose window he appears every Wednesday to bless the throng.

Benedict XVI has been on his throne for nearly 50 days, and though photographs of his predecessor still predominate in the souvenir shops, the new papacy is becoming an accepted fact.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as was, is an accomplished pianist with a special passion for Mozart and Bach. In the past he played duets with his housekeeper, Ingrid Stampa, a mistress of the antique viola da gamba.

If however, they have played duets together during the past six weeks, the Vatican is keeping mum about it. One suspects that it will not be encouraged. The Pope may be the world's last absolute monarch, yet he is not a free agent. "What can I do?" Pope John XXIII was once heard to lament. "I am only the Pope."

Benedict XVI is a cat lover, but he was not allowed to bring his two moggies with him. So much for absolute power. Another example, of greater moment: it was the hope of many Catholics that Benedict would take far more vigorous steps than his predecessor to tackle the scourge of priestly paedophilia.

His announcement last year of an investigation into longstanding allegations against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel Degollado, an old friend of Pope John Paul, was a heartening sign that the Church was taking the issue seriously. Those hopes were shattered on 20 May when the Legionaries stated that there was no investigation, and that one was not foreseen. Yet it now emerges that that statement came from another old friend of Degollado, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. It looks, in other words, as if one old warhorse in the Vatican is trying to stymie Benedict's initiative. Whether he will succeed, only time will tell. Benedict, after all, is only the Pope.

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The rest of Rome, meanwhile, has more important matters on its mind. One of the prettiest sights of central Rome is the red and black lacquered coaches drawn by carthorses that rumble over the cobbles with Japanese newlyweds and matrons from the Midwest. Less pretty for the popolo romano is the poo they leave behind, which has little practical use, as very few Romans have gardens to fertilise. A full year ago the drivers' association signed an agreement to equip their horses with nappies. It has yet to happen. "The procedure has been activated," explained the city assessor's department, "but an economic problem remains" - namely the £2,000 required to purchase aforesaid diapers. The city is going to have to live with the smell for a while longer.

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Rome's giant ring road, the Grande Raccordo Annulare, is no more appealing a wilderness of tarmac than London's M25, especially given the harum scarum motoring style of the Romans. In the early hours of the morning boy racers sometimes stage impromptu Grands Prix along it.

So it is not surprising that a man picked up by police, pedalling his pushbike, looked "petrified", according to reports. He turned out to be a former director of Confindustria - Italy's CBI - with no recollection of how he got there.

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